by Cliff Rold
Can a fighter be in with someone highly unlikely to defeat them and still impress? That question was on display last Saturday night as WBC titlist Deontay Wilder went through Chris Arreola for his fourth successful defense.
There was plenty to like about Wilder’s performance, his best since winning his belt from Bermane Stiverne last year. The problems were two: it’s hard to say how much of a gauge Arreola is at this point; and, we might not have anything from Wilder to measure it against for the rest of 2016.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Wilder A-; Arreola C+/Post: A-; C
Pre-Fight: Power – Wilder A; Arreola B+/Post: A; B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Wilder B; Arreola C/Post: B; C-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Wilder B; Arreola B/Post: B+; B
There were flashes in the ring last weekend that reminded of why there once was enthusiasm for Arreola. His come forward style, his toughness, his willingness, were all there. While he lost every round, there were moments when Arreola’s combination punching (always his best attribute), got him inside and found a home for some big shots.
It’s too bad there wasn’t enough of Arreola left to make it count. Arreola always carried a pretty good punch. On Saturday, it looked like the snap was gone from early on. Flush left hooks had little body behind them. Body shots drew dance moves as Wilder played to the crowd.
In the 1990s, heavyweight fans saw the promise of Riddick Bowe eroded by a battle with the bulge and too many punches taken. Arreola was never in Bowe’s league. His lack of consistent preparation, and heavy accumulation of punishment, defeated him years ago. Saturday was the best he’s looked since his second loss to Stiverne.
That didn’t mean it wasn’t still far from the young fighter who obliterated Chazz Witherspoon and engaged in a fan friendly battle with Tomasz Adamek.
Wilder impressed anyways, particularly before a fourth round when it appears he broke his hand. Wilder planted his feet and used his jab as well as he ever has. The stick was fast, hard, accurate, and came from multiple angles. That he worked through injuries, later to include a diagnosis of a biceps injury to go with the hand, and still closed the show, was commendable.
Wilder, even now, remains a work in progress. To deny progress has been made would be a lie. Look at his form when he turned pro, his form just a couple of years ago, and then where he is now. Wilder had to have worked his ass off to get this far.
Given the arc of his career, there is every reason to think he has yet to hit his best form. We may still be a year or two away from the very best we will see from him. That’s what makes this injury setback disappointing. He needs to continue accumulating rounds. He won’t get that chance.
As a positive, it could allow time for a resolution in the Alexander Povetkin matter. If Povetkin is ultimately cleared of wrongdoing regarding a positive meldonium test, Wilder’s WBC mandatory could still loom. Wilder’s progress would be tested there.
It could also be tested in a shot at World Champion Tyson Fury or IBF titlist Anthony Joshua. Wilder has a combination of speed, power, personality, and conditioning missing from the American heavyweight scene for most of a decade.
Against any of the men named, it will mean must-see viewing.
We still don’t know how good Wilder is. We just know he’s better than he was and still improving. We won’t know what steps he’s made after Arreola until wounds are healed.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2016: 28-10
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]